Claire Sawers

Freelance Writer

Year: 2015

Interview: Maurice Louca

The Herald
9 October 2015

Maurice Louca playing live

Maurice Louca

Cairo’s challenge to Glasgow audiences

“Crowds at gigs in Cairo are loud and intrusive – in a good way, it’s like the city,” Maurice Louca is explaining down Skype as, bang on cue, a loud motorbike zooms past with a high buzz. “If they like something, they’ll show it. There isn’t that kind of highbrow thing here; it’s quite the opposite actually. They’re very appreciative.”

Louca, an experimental musician born and based in Cairo, talks about a Danish DJ friend who played a club in his hometown not long ago. “The crowd had no alcohol, it was a Saturday about 7pm, and they listened! They went crazy. He couldn’t believe it. Not even drunk, not 4am, just really into it.”

It’s fairly easy to imagine a Glasgow crowd, maybe not 100% sober, but definitely losing their cool for Louca’s upcoming live set at the CCA. His music, and in particular his latest album, Benhayyi Al-Baghbaghan (Salute the Parrot), is by turns a multi-coloured, caffeinated, polyrhythmic frenzy, or a droning, rolling, hypnotic daze. He bends looping Middle Eastern percussion and psychedelic samples around addictive Egyptian shaabi melodies and metallic Arabic vocals, creating an exhilarating blur. Just please, don’t call it “fusion”.

“I hate that term – I don’t want to be associated with it, and always try to steer away from it!” he protests, laughing. “Often it just means, ‘Take metal music, then add some tabla’. I hope that’s not how I approach music. I’m not conscious or calculated about combining styles, it’s much more natural than that.”

Louca’s music mixes shaabi (an Egyptian genre of street, working class, wedding and political music that’s so broad, he says, the umbrella label pins down the style about as well as the term “world” music does) with the myriad musical influences he’s grown up around. He’s played in various bands (Bikya, and Dwarves of East Agouza with Alan Bishop and Sam Shalabi) dabbling in psych-rock covers, free jazz, techno, drum and bass, and this month [September 2015] released an exhilarating debut album of cosmic-Arabic sounds with Alif, an alternative Iraqi-Palestinian-Lebanese-Egyptian ensemble.

Although he’s been composing and performing music for years, the timing is perfect for Louca’s first Scottish appearance, and he’s glad to see a growing Western interest in Arabic music. Artists like Syrian wedding-rave wizard Omar Souleyman, hyperactive Egyptian DJ Islam Chipsy and high-energy Dutch collective Cairo Liberation Front have paved the way for him, taking the sounds of shaabi, and it’s dancier “electro-shaabi” offshoot mahraganat, into the crossover territory of European clubs and festivals.

“Those signature sounds – the polyrhythms, the scales, the textures and instrumentation – probably stand out more for Western audiences, which I am pleased about, but for me they’re just part of my musical make-up.”

Some have made a connection between the Arab Spring uprisings which began in 2010 and a gradual galvanisation of the Arabic underground music scene, but as far as Louca is concerned, the energy and creativity was there long before.

“For sure there’s a growing momentum. But things started getting interesting in Egypt back around 2005. There was definitely this feeling like, ‘we own the streets’, and it affected music, with people putting on shows and loud music in cafes, the streets and their homes. There was a bit more freedom of speech, and things got politically very interesting.”

Although he describes the current mood in Egypt as, “like living under a dark cloud”, with several of his friends in jail, and increased attempts to crackdown on youth culture and suppress artistic expression through censorship, the grim backdrop doesn’t affect him, or his music.

“No-one is stopping me on a day to day basis from making music. I don’t ever set out to make uplifting or sad music anyway. That’s not how I work. I’ve always just written music that sounds good to me.”

Although his album title, Salute the Parrot might conjure up tropical, exotic images, and he’s excited at the idea that it does, that wasn’t necessarily what Louca was aiming for.

“My intention was to leave it very open. I suppose it sounds a bit surreal, which I like, plus there are political connotations. In Cairo, a parrot is someone who repeats something that he doesn’t understand. A parrot is also the master of ceremonies at weddings who shouts out names, and that ties in with the shaabi music, so I like all the interpretations.”

As for his live show in Glasgow, he hopes the crowd get into it. “A great audience is one that likes to clap and dance, and doesn’t stay cold. I’ve heard Glasgow has a very vibrant scene, and audiences are already pretty aware of the Arab music scene over there. I don’t expect them to be as chaotic and insane as a crowd in Cairo, but it’ll be looking forward to see how carried away we get.”

Maurice Louca plays the CCA, Glasgow, tomorrow.

Read online at The Herald here.

Interview: Doug Stanhope – ‘I’m part Scottish and some English, with German rising’

The List
8 September 2015

Doug Stanhope

Doug Stanhope

It’s around 11.30am, Arizona time. Doug Stanhope is at home, dealing with another fresh hangover in his own special way. He’s applied eye drops, he’s on his second cigarette, and he’s explaining a new coping mechanism he’s developed: an evolved version of hair of the dog.

Tonight, the stand-up comedian will head to Tucson airport, so he’s in position when the airport bar opens at 6am. From there he’ll begin an #airportpubcrawl (it’s a thing, apparently). He’ll board a plane to Tokyo (with stops at Salt Lake City and Portland), drinking vodka grapefruit juices and Manhattans in the airports along the way, not venturing outside until he gets to Honolulu, where he’ll use the 12-hour layover to visit one of his favourite Tiki bars, and maybe read a book. ‘I’ll be back home in 48 hours,’ he mumbles.

It could seem like an elaborate way to unwind, but as with so many things, the logic, when explained by Stanhope, makes astonishingly good sense. ‘As soon as I’m onboard, I’ll take a Xanax, maybe have a couple of cocktails. I get the best sleep when I’m flying, I absolutely love it. I think it’s because you’re moving, going forward or something. Plus at home you’re surrounded by your shit; the dog wants fed and the cats are crying. Fuck that. This is the kind of thing you can do when you live below your means, and you don’t have kids. I live in a town where you can buy a house for $60,000. So I have a disposable income, and a bunch of air miles. Plus my wife is away so I’d probably just be bored if I hung around here; I’d rather be in motion.’

Stanhope’s #airportpubcrawl will also provide a breather from writing his upcoming book, focussing on his life with his mother, Bonnie, who committed suicide at age 63. ‘She was the one who told me to do stand-up. She was this angry, crazy, miserable, awful person, with a truck-driver mouth,’ he says, with a wheezy laugh that belies his obvious affection. ‘Writing this book makes every day feel like the day after taking ecstasy. Plus my memory is such dogshit that I have to call up friends I’ve not spoken to in years to check the facts.’

Besides looking at their relationship and casting a backwards glance over his days as a Las Vegas stand-up and then a Los Angeles barfly, the now 48-year-old Arizonian will presumably get a chance to expand on some of his libertarian views too. He’s rattled a few cages in the past with his right-to-die opinions, an issue that’s understandably close to his heart after being present at his mum’s death when she chose to overdose on morphine, while suffering from emphysema.

A quick Google search for ‘Allison Pearson’ should cover the key points to Stanhope’s argument on end-of-life care. But he recaps today, calling the Daily Telegraph journalist with whom he had an online spat in 2012, ‘ruthlessly crass, uneducated, with a poorly thought-out op ed piece.’ He still feels just as strongly. In fact, this morning’s hangover is from last night’s city council meeting, where they were discussing right-to-die legislation, and Stanhope was speaking. ‘I happen to live in a very progressive town [Bisbee, Arizona] in a state with a lot of redneck retards. Elsewhere they dress it up; they’ll do anything to avoid buzzwords like “mercy killings” or “euthanasia”. But some people require physician-assisted suicide, or maybe even farmer-assisted suicide; maybe they just want to be taken out back and put down like Old Yeller.’

While Stanhope is candid and willing to air his anarchist, libertarian views (his regular podcasts,Twitter and Facebook posts are full of them), he says his upcoming UK tour won’t focus on politics. ‘Fuck, no. Who cares? It’s so boring. It’s this circular argument. Talking about Donald Trump: what does that do? It’s the Kardashian effect, talking about them just makes the problem worse.’

He’s deliberately not revealing what the content will be for his UK shows, but claims material-wise, ‘I have a loaded gun. Usually before I do dates in the UK, I have ulcers and worry that this shit won’t work for British audiences.’

This time, three years after his last UK visit, he’s had time to accumulate plenty new material, and doesn’t have the usual panic. He even confesses to having a soft spot for Scotland, owning up, slightly shamefully, that he recently discovered his great-grandmother was born there.

‘I know, I know, American douchebags talking about their family history in the same way people talk about their astrological sign . . . But apparently I’m part Scottish and some English, with German rising, or something. I really do enjoy being in Scotland. I’m sure it’s psychological; like, maybe if you told me I was in Scotland when I was really some place in England, I’d just feel better. I don’t know why I like it; you guys still don’t have proper condiments and everything’s made of that ugly stone everywhere. But I usually have a good time there.’

www.dougstanhope.com@DougStanhopeFacebook.com/officialstanhope

Review: Sufjan Steven’s Round-Up

The Herald
31 August 2015


Round Up
Sat 29 Aug
The Hub, Edinburgh
4 stars

In Sufjan Steven’s Round-Up, we’re taken to the rodeo, where cheerleaders strut in John Deere bodywarmers, Marlboro Men swagger in Stetsons and audiences roar in a sea of denim and check shirts. His soundtracked documentary premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this year, and is given an Edinburgh outing, performed by the excellent New York piano and percussion quartet Yarn/Wire in front of a huge video screen.

The footage of calves being lassooed, men and women being bucked off their broncos, hula hoopers twirling in sparkly wigs, and Native American children parading proudly in glitter and beads takes on a chilling beauty when slowed down, making the 80-minute film a glacial-paced orgy of strange pageantry.

Stevens’ score is mesmerising, but the visuals (filmed in Pendleton, Oregon by brothers Aaron and Alex Craig) can’t help but draw audible winces from the crowd; at the second the neck of a young cow snaps back against a rope, or watching the panicked back legs of a horse struggling to throw off their rider. The music seems somehow sympathetic, pianists Laura Barger and Ning Yu come close to a straight-backed trot as they slow from the frenzied fairground gallop of the opening section, then sit silently as the film takes a couple of minutes to watch clumsy and carefree cow muscles running through a field.

Composer Stevens has proved his versatility, not to mention curiosity, in the past – with twee folk-pop, Christmas boxsets, electronic song cycles about the Chinese zodiac and his “Fifty States Project” about the American states. By turning his wonder now to the rituals of the all-American rodeo, he’s created something reverent, nightmarish and glorious, all at once.

 

Read the original review in the Herald here.

Review: Seymour Mace – Niche As F*ck!

Comedian Seymour Mace

Seymour Mace

The List
28 August 2015
4 stars

This Geordie has been coming to the Fringe for 12 years, charming the tits off his fans with dark whimsy and flimsy props. Thank goodness he’s just decided to go deeper with his strange, surrealist, low-budget style to present his aptly-titled 2015 show Niche as F*ck!

Those who weren’t on-board the Mace train before probably won’t feel tempted now. But for lovers of his absurd, northern line of light entertainment (constructed from tin foil and charity shop tat, and borrowing from the unfaltering professionalism of Tommy Cooper, the thought-provoking social commentary of Vic and Bob and the poetic flair of Viz magazine) this may be his best hour yet.

For all its homemade disaster, there is a sophisticated balance between the cutely nonsensical (glove puppets, sketches of man-sandwiches, a top prize made of a Pringles tube and a golf ball) and something more ink-black and cynical. When game-show contestants from the crowd lose his bizarre game of ‘Blankety Twat’, they’re sent back to their seats with a torrent of affectionate abuse, hanging their heads.

Dafter, ludicrous moments are punctuated with asides about fiddlers, wife batterers, social climbers and evil-doers. ‘See? It seems silly but it’s actually quite political!’ he says, in a kind of wonky Anne Robinson wink to his crowd. It’s definitely silly, but Mace’s niche is a smart one too, where laughter tears spring from his crowd at the oddest moments.

The Stand 2, 558 7272, until 30 Aug, 2.30pm, £8 (£7).

Interview: Bryce Dessner

The Herald
27 August 2015

bryce-dessner
Many will know Brooklyner Bryce Dessner best as the guitarist in moody rock band The National, where he plays alongside his twin brother Aaron. But his sister, Jessica Dessner is also an influence on his approach to writing music. “My sister is a contemporary dancer, and I like the idea that dancers have this immediate, primary response to music. Classical music is often met with more of an intellectual reaction. I’m interested in exploring how music can lull and surprise the listener, and the different levels we react to it on.”

For Wave Movements, a work he has composed with his friend Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire, they took inspiration from the ocean. After taking field recordings of the sea, and examining the restless rhythms, swells and irregularities it produces, they wrote a piece that mimics those sounds, to be played in synch with a black and white film by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

“[Sugimoto’s] Seascapes photos of water and air and the horizon have this naturalistic feel, they’re very slow moving and gentle, so we’ve explored different string techniques to reflect that mood.”

The multi-media performance was premiered earlier this year at The Barbican, as part of the Mountains and Waves weekend that Dessner curated, featuring minimalist works by Terry Riley and Steve Reich. For the Edinburgh International Festival date, Wave Movements will be performed live by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, as a result of Dessner meeting up with EIF’s director, Fergus Linehan a few years ago and being asked to take his compositions to the Sydney Festival, where Linehan was also director.

“I like that Fergus is interested in opening up the windows a bit and letting something new in,” says Dessner. “He wants to broaden the horizons of classical music, and make a bigger statement. We can leave at the door those old ideas of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. Fergus is more about encouraging composers and musicians to take a risk, and he’s in a position to empower them to do that.”

The blurred lines between high and low art are a subject close to Dessner’s heart. Although many would consider his day job to be touring, writing and playing with The National – and he admits it does take up a chunk of his time – he’s also a very sought after classical composer, who’s worked with the LA Philharmonic, Kronos Quartet and Brooklyn Academy of Music amongst others, and is currently writing a ballet for NYC Ballet to be performed early next year. Dessner also founded the MusicNow festival back in 2006, where his pals Sharon Van Etten, St Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Bang on a Can All-Stars and Nico Muhly have all played.

“There are these old ideas about classical music being formal and sophisticated, but for me the exciting things happen when we get away from those old paradigms. Look at Tim Hecker, or Oneohtrix Point Never who play around with sampled electronic sounds in an orchestral way, or [US composer] John Luther Adams who takes inspirations from Alaskan landscapes, or me – god forbid I should play loud music in a rock club, and write classical music. But it’s like a writer doing poetry, and fiction, and journalism, or letting them blend together. It’s just about using different muscles.”

As well as Wave Movements, the EIF concert will also include Heart & Breath, a piece written by Reed Parry, based on body rhythms and breathing patterns that Dessner and Reed Parry perform live, and Ballades, a score originally written by Dessner for LA Dance Project.

“Ballades was inspired by murder ballads, a lot of them Irish and Scottish actually. I wanted to look into the European roots of US folk traditions, and maybe figure out why American culture is so defined by violence.”

Dessner’s played Edinburgh before, but more recently at the Corn Exchange or Glasgow’s 02 Academy with The National. He’s excited to be returning to Edinburgh, a city he describes as “so, so beautiful”, and particularly chuffed about where his music fits into the festival programme.

“The Edinburgh festival is well established, and has this huge reputation. But this year’s programme isn’t about turning its back on the historical traditions, it’s more about letting more people into the party.”

Wave Movements is part of The Russian Standard Vodka Hub Sessions at the Edinburgh International Festival tomorrow.

Read online at The Herald here (subscription needed).

Interview: Oneohtrix Point Never

The Herald
20 August 2015

daniel-lopatin

As a ten-year-old, in the pre-internet days, Daniel Lopatin was hooked on sci-fi cartoons. He’d seen the MTV series Aeon Flux, a dark and dystopic animation, starring an icy heroine in leather fetish gear, coupled with avant-garde sound design, and asked around to see if his friends could recommend anything similar. ‘Cartoons with serious themes,’ as he puts it. It was his boyhood gateway drug into Japanese anime.

‘Since animation is not tethered to reality, like practical sets and the budgets they require, it makes it possible to materialise all kinds of incredible forms,’ he says. ‘Animation on the whole is a better platform for speculating on the fantastical.’

So last year, when the experimental composer was commissioned to soundtrack a film for the BFI’s Sci Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder series, he turned once more to Japanese cartoons for inspiration. His research led him to Memories – a trilogy of short animations from 1995, based on the manga stories of Katsuhiro Otomo, who also wrote Akira. ‘Magnetic Rose’ is the first story, an opulent and trippy tale set onboard a destroyed space station, where holograms reflect memories and dreams. ‘Its pretty chaotic. There’s a lot of rubble and devastation.’

The film already had a soundtrack of its own, by Yoko Kanno, which Lopatin describes as, ‘dreamy, sparse, beautiful choral stuff’, but he set about rescoring it with his own celestial, futuristic soundscapes. The result is a beautifully eerie, ethereal swirl of choir song, Japanese language, warped electronics and Eastern strings. It floats between the calm refuges of an ambient otherworld, into what sounds like the dark echoes of a chilling abyss.

‘I wanted to preserve aspects of the original’s environmental sound,’ he explains. ‘Once I found a way to more or less successfully separate the dialogue from the environmental and score sounds, I started working with them as raw materials. So it is less a matter of improvising over a film that’s been muted, and more about thinking of the whole of the film as a material entity and pushing that towards some new musical and environmental forms.’

Lopatin’s been making intoxicating electronic music since the mid 2000s, mostly under the alias, Oneohtrix Point Never – a play on words of the Boston radio station, Magic 106.7 – but also as Chuck Person, KGB Man, Infinity Window, Ford & Lopatin, Games and SunsetCorp. The latter was the pseudonym he used for 2009’s ‘Nobody Here’, his sublimely simple loop of three words from Chris De Burgh’s ‘Lady in Red’. Like a lot of his music, the track slotted neatly into the genre of hypnagogic pop, a term coined by David Keenan in The Wire magazine the same year. Keenan and Heather Leigh Murray, who set up Glasgow’s excellent Volcanic Tongue record shop – a weirdo treasure trove of avant-garde drones, Japanese psych, local acid-folk and everything in between (it’s online-only now after the Finnieston shop closed earlier this year) – stocked a lot of Lopatin’s rarities, and became friends.

‘Please give David and Heather a shout-out from me!,’ he chirps. Having played Scottish gigs booked by Cry Parrot, (Fielding Hope), and briefly toured the States with Glasgow’s Nackt Insekten (Ruaraidh Sanachan), and Edinburgh’s Usurper, (Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson), Lopatin is full of praise for the people making up the varied Scottish music scene.

‘They are sweet, intensely honest and just lovely people who care about music.’

For his upcoming Scottish date in The Hub, he says mysteriously, ‘I’m moving sounds around a room and giving them shape and texture and dynamics.’ He’ll also perform Bullet Hell Abstraction IV, a new composition commissioned by Red Bull Music Academy and inspired by video games (not for the first time either, his 2010 tape Ecco Jams blurred Sega theme tunes and Toto’s ‘Africa’).

‘They asked me to perform an original piece of music based on work by a Japanese video game composer of my choosing, so I chose Manabu Namiki, a musical hero of mine, and I created four pieces. He’s most famously a composer of great soundtracks to Bullet Hell or Manic Shooter games, which have a certain hypnotic feel.’

Hypnotic, hypnagogic, holographic; the music of Lopatin, sci-fi geek, synth manipulator and Japanese cartoon nut, somehow sounds like all of the above.

Magnetic Rose by Oneohtrix Point Never is part of The Hub Sessions at Edinburgh International Festival on Saturday.

pointnever.com

Read online at The Herald here (subscription needed)

Interview: Apphia Campbell on playing Nina Simone

Celebrating Nina Simone

Apphia Campbell playing Nina Simone in Black is the Colour of My Voice

Apphia Campbell playing Nina Simone in Black is the Colour of My Voice

The Herald
10 Aug 2015

What if Nina Simone hadn’t died when she did? The jazz singer would have been 83 years old this year, and chances are, if she was paying attention to the news, she’d be mad as hell and ready, as she once said, to ‘burn buildings’.

“I try and imagine if she was around now,” muses Apphia Campbell, a Florida born, now Edinburgh-based singer who has written a play about the blues legend turned black rights activist, who died in 2003.

“Would she be right back up there, singing those protest songs? Maybe she’d change the words of ‘Mississippi Goddam’ and be singing ‘Texas Goddam’ for 2015 instead!

“To hear her singing those civil rights songs back in the 60s, then seeing that forty or so years later we’ve not really moved on, there’s something incredibly sad about that.”

Campbell’s one-woman play, Black is the Color Of My Voice will return to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, alongside a new sister show, Nina Simone: Soul Sessions, where Campbell sings songs from Simone’s broad back catalogue, including ‘Sinner Man’, ‘Feeling Good’ and ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’.

Campbell’s not the only one sensing a fresh thirst for the story and songs of Nina Simone. Ruth Rogers-Wright will be starring in another Fringe play, Nina Simone Black Diva Power over at the New Town Theatre, barely a month after Netflix released the documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, a collection of rare footage and interviews with her family.

“Nina Simone’s brilliance would forever change the musical landscape and yet she never fully got her due,” explains documentary director, Liz Garbus, chatting to The Herald from Pasadena, Los Angeles. “She had been a very popular singer during the 50s, but she never compromised. After songs like ‘Backlash Blues’ and ‘Mississippi Goddam’, she was essentially blacklisted. They were considered too radical, and seen as commercial suicide. Some people gave their life for the black rights struggle, but it’s important not to overlook the price others paid too.”

Garbus’ documentary required a ‘worldwide scavenger hunt’ to find audio tapes, interviews, family confessions and diaries that would help trace Simone’s life. Originally a classically trained pianist, she became a jazz bar diva and latterly, an icon for black power. She became friends with American activists Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, as well as African activists including South African singer Miriam Makeba, who encouraged Simone to relocate to Liberia, where she lived in self-imposed exile for two years.

“She struggled against demons from both within and without,” says Garbus. “Her life was both a reflection of the legacy of racism in America as well as an extraordinary example of the power a righteous voice can bring to bear against even the most wicked historical legacies,” says Garbus.

For Campbell, a singer who keeps getting mistaken for Simone on her publicity posters for Black is the Color of My Voice, it was Simone’s struggle as a woman, and a musician, that seemed particularly fascinating.

“She was a dark character, someone who went through tumultuous times, with bouts of violence and depression, but through them she was always trying to find her voice – was it educated enough? Was it African enough? Was it real enough? Watching YouTube videos of her, I noticed how much her speaking voice, as well as her singing voice could change.”

Simone described her own voice as having the ability to change from ‘gravel’ to ‘coffee and cream’, but for Rogers-Wright, what was always consistent was the emotion she poured in.

‘Most singers don’t take that chance when they perform, but she dared to experiment, to say what she thought, to take you on an adventure of the senses, to show real depth and beauty, and the results were often incredible.”

In Black Diva Power, the story focuses on Simone’s friendship with Lorraine Hansberry – the playwright and black activist who encouraged Simone to become involved in the civil rights movement. Hansberry, who died from cancer, aged 34, urged Simone to carry on her legacy after her death, and Simone’s top ten hit ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ was inspired by Hansberry’s writing, which had been turned into a Broadway play of the same name the year before.

Both Campbell and Rogers-Wright admit they find Simone an intimidating figure to portray on stage. For Campbell, she has created a fictional character, Mena Bordeaux, inspired by the real-life spiritual cleansing that Simone embarked on following her father’s death, where she isolated herself for three days without cigarettes, alcohol, or access to the outside world.

Rogers-Wright saw Simone perform several times in London and was mesmerised, although scared off approaching her outside the venues because she was arguing or agitated each time.

“Nina believed she was the reincarnation of Queen Nefertiti, and sometimes, when you hear her sing in that emphatic way of hers, or even telling her crowd to shut up, you think, maybe she was on to something!

“Her music had a transformative power, it took her to a higher place, somewhere beyond even her shittiest behaviour. This show is a reminder to new and old fans that you can be a strong spirit, fight for what means the world to you, and that’s when unique things happen.”

Black is the Color of My Voice, Gilded Balloon, Wed 5–Mon 31 Aug, 1.15pm, £9.50-£10.50 (£6–£9.50); Nina Simone: Soul Sessions, Assembly Checkpoint, Thu 6–Sun 30 Aug, 8.50pm, £10–£13.50; Nina Simone Black Diva Power, New Town Theatre, Thu 6–Sun 30 Aug, 7.45pm, £7-£14 (£8–£12).

Read the article at The Herald here.

Album review: Holly Herndon – Platform

The List
23 April 2015

 

Holly Herndon's Platform

Holly Herndon
Platform (4AD)
4 stars

A few facts on the marmalade-haired electronic-whizz that is Holly Herndon. She’s currently studying as a doctoral candidate at Stanford’s Centre for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). She was born in Tennessee, but spent her formative years in Berlin’s minimal techno scene, before upping sticks and moving to San Francisco. She recently contributed a piece of sound art to a Chicago art gallery show about using the human voice as an instrument.

All these things start making better sense on hearing this, her third album, after 2011’s Car and 2012’s Movement. The geeky love of musical gadgetry, the playful experimentation with songwriting, the throbby, machine-made beats, the voice manipulation, the hippy nods to self-help culture, it’s all in there, and things start adding up when you know where Herndon has been, and where she is now. A bit like Heatsick’s dancefloor-friendly, but cerebrally satisfying – but strictly only if you want them to be – tropical-house beats (he too cites Berlin’s club and art scenes as a big influence), Herndon seems fascinated by the spaces in dance music for, well dancing, thankfully, but also exploration and discovery.

In ‘Lonely at the Top’, a voice (Berlin Community Radio’s ASMR or ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response’ ambassador Claire Tolan) coos words of new-agey encouragement to a stressed-out receiver of a massage, blurred with sounds of laptop typing and running water. ‘New Ways to Love’ is a spacey, polyphonic experiment in song; ‘Morning Sun’ sounds like the celestial vibes of This Mortal Coil, given a glitchy, short-circuity twist and ‘Interference’ is a stuttery pop song, juddering and spasming through waves of interference.

Platform’s not one to sing along to, for sure (not without some very fancy software anyway), but it’s definitely full of new ways to love the ever-fascinating Herndon.

 

 

Interview: Jimi Tenor recalls making techno documentary Sähkö The Movie

Ahead of a rare screening in Glasgow, the director shares his memories of filming the 90s techno documentary

Jimi Tenor

The List
18 Feb 2015

Only the few will have seen Sähkö The Movie – regarded among certain technoheads as the ‘Holy Grail of electronic music documentaries’. Rarely screened live, besides the odd special event like Sonar festival, or a night at MoMA in New York, it’s coming to Glasgow for its 20th anniversary, and a special event in the Glasgow Short Film Festival. Although many won’t have laid eyes on it, there’s a chance some Scottish readers (especially clubbers of a certain vintage) could be in the film.

Jimi Tenor, director of the 44-minute documentary, and semi-legendary Finnish techno producer turned pop/jazz musician, remembers the mid-nineties trip to Glasgow where some of the film was made.

‘Keith [McIvor, aka JD Twitch) had his club at the Barrowlands – Pure. He invited me over for that which was a lot of fun. They liked a track of mine, ‘Take Me Baby’. It reminded him of Suicide and we all liked Suicide. Anyway, they liked it and released a 12” on their label [T&B] in 1995.’ (Warp Records later re-released it, and Hudson Mohawke covered it.)

‘After that Keith and I have stayed in touch, and worked on other events like Optimo and the Venice Biennale since.’

Two decades on, Tenor’s been invited back to screen his documentary at Glasgow’s Glue Factory, and play a live set, with support from the inimitable Golden Teacher.

‘It might be quite weird for Glasgow audiences to watch,’ says Tenor of his film, shot in 16mm and newly restored digitally. ‘Some of the clothes are quite funny, and it’s interesting to see the streets, the Barrowlands, a pool hall; how the city has changed since then.’

‘It’s a bit like a road movie, or a music video; there’s very little dialogue,’ explains Tenor, who was a key player on Finnish ultra-minimalist techno label, Sähkö Recordings (sähkö means ‘electricity’), founded by Tommi Grönlund in 1993. The film follows Tenor and labelmates, the excellent Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen (solo artists who performed together as Pan(a)sonic), as they share their ultra-sparse techno, weird noise music and self-made instruments with the world.

‘The quality is rough, but I think the Super 8 format is lovely. It was always supposed to be like that, but it’s not like, I don’t know … Harry Potter quality.’

‘It’s a piece of history now,’ he laughs. ‘It’s about those times, and the completely weird outfits we wore, those big plastic glasses I wore – and still wear now. The main idea behind what we were doing was to make something simple, nothing fancy. But we wanted it to be something hopefully a bit strange, and surprising.’

‘In those days the laptop thing hadn’t happened,’ he goes on. ‘We were using really heavy hardware back then. Sometimes my kit would weigh about 20 kilos. These days, flight luggage restrictions don’t even let you travel with that anymore! Back then they’d allow much more but I’d still board planes wearing three jackets, and all the pockets were stuffed with cables.’

Although Sähkö has earned cult status in some electronic music circles, Tenor stresses that a lot of the elements that fans love about the label’s sound sometimes came about through necessity, as much as design.

‘The equipment we were using wasn’t rare at the time – we just used what was cheap. Nowadays some of the bits have become really expensive, but it certainly wasn’t back then. We used unfashionable, second-hand, analogue stuff. It was a good moment for us to get hold of it – just as it was becoming out of step and they were switching gradually to new, digital equipment.

‘The main idea was that it was very simple, not complicated, so the audience could understand the system going on, and how roughly it had been made. I find often when people do stuff with laptops now, using a lot of samplers, the whole thing gets quite complicated. You listen, and it’s like, “what exactly is going on here?”. You can’t tell what was done at home, what’s happening live, when they are just pressing play … With our stuff, when something happened, you could see it happening. There was a live, improvised, noise side to what we did onstage, for sure.’

‘Obviously we wanted it to provide entertainment. It was always supposed to be enjoyable, just not in a predictable way. Now I may be a hippie with long hair, but I won’t be having an early night. I still hope to have a good party on the dancefloor in Glasgow. Of course I do – I’m still alive!’

Strange Electricity, The Glue Factory, Glasgow, Sat 14 Mar, part of Glasgow Short Film Festival.
jimitenor.com; sahkorecordings.com.

Read the interview at The List here.  View photos from the anniversary screening here.

Interview: Gazelle Twin

Behind the angst-ridden mask of musician-producer Elizabeth Bernholz

gazelle-twin

The List
12 Feb 2015

Elizabeth Bernholz, aka Gazelle Twin, is a Brighton musician making ink-black, intoxicating experimental pop. Her droning, bleeping, pitch-shifting electronic tracks are nightmarish, unsettling takes on everything from mental health issues, societal angst and body horror. She was The Quietus’s 2014 Album of the Year winner, and recently made music for the London Short Film Festival. Claire Sawers got a brief peek behind the mask…

As someone who’s been racked with anxieties, self-loathing and neuroses since childhood, how did you deal with the praise piled on you, particularly for your last album, Unflesh?
That’s the first time anyone has asked me that and it’s a great question. I’m not very good at taking praise normally, especially in person. It sometimes makes me want to cry, or feel sick and want to hide. It’s not that I am ungrateful – quite the opposite.

It’s an odd thing. I guess in this sense, being praised for making work about various traumas is also a very uncomfortable thing if I think about it too much. I try to focus on the fact that it’s maybe just my ability to communicate and construct something out of an experience, rather than the experience itself. Good press is like a drug though. I try to distance myself from it as much as I can as it’s easy to become addicted to that rush of reading good press, or receiving praise, and then the drop is a long one whenever the criticism is negative, or things just peter out and no one talks about it anymore. I’ve been incredibly lucky with this record that people are still interested!

What three things might people find surprising about you?
Behind closed doors I am pretty juvenile when I’m not totally stressed out from work or other things. I love watching comedies and getting far too addicted to TV dramas. People might also be surprised that I am quite shy, self-deprecating and easily embarrassed… that is, if they have seen me onstage lunging or barking at them.

Your videos and music seem to reflect deep-rooted, societal angst. Are we all fucked?
Hmm, yeah I think we are really. I can’t lie. It’s just a gradual demise from now I think, until total collapse. Until we start all over again, if we are that lucky.

What role can music play in making things less fucked?
I think it’s important that people have a way to purge their frustrations, anger, experience, no matter how personal or how political. The more that leftfield music is heard in the mainstream, the more creativity might be inspired, the more free-thinking might be adopted by younger generations. I don’t know, that’s a utopia of course, but young people need that. The world needs that. It probably can’t help war, famine, disease or natural disasters though sadly. Sorry Bob Geldof.

Is life getting more or less terrifying for you?
People terrify me. The idea of having children, which will be my next big event in life, terrifies me. But healthy fear is a pretty good motivator most of the time.

Who or what makes you laugh?
French and Saunders. Arrested Development. Mulligan and O’Hare.

What’s your idea of hell?
Probably too dark for your readers, so I’ll go with something less graphic like being stranded at sea with my legs underwater.

What are you working on now/ next?
I have been working on a few side-projects and other music work, but have made a start on album three. It’ll take me a lot of work to get some of the ideas I have into shape. But I am excited to start something new.

Gazelle Twin plays the Art School, Glasgow, Fri 27 Feb, with Zamilska, hausfrau & Dick-50. Read the interview at The List here.
gazelletwin.com

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